Get your party hats ready, because today brings no ordinary birthday party – today, we celebrate one of the absolute greats. Willem Dafoe is one of the greatest living actors, a true artist who respects his craft and has appeared in some of the greatest films of all time since he dropped his first feature role in 1980.
Willem Dafoe turns sixty-six today, but his films will live on forever. From starring role to short appearance, the man will often make a movie by simply showing up. We’ve gathered our favorite movies with Willem Dafoe to celebrate the scary, intense, meticulous, and brilliant work of the birthday boy on his special day.
We’ll start with a recent one for the zoomers out there, 2019’s The Lighthouse. A24 fever may have produced some run-of-the mill art shlock after the viral explosion of movies like Hereditary & The VVitch, but The Lighthouse is not part of the dollar bin.
The Lighthouse is incredibly intentional, and holds visual beauty only attainable with traditional techniques and trading digital photography for real black & white filmstock. The plot is rich in subtext, but it’s impossible to ignore that the entire film is upheld by two (and only two!) spirited performances by Robert Pattinson & Willem Dafoe.
Dafoe transforms into an old sea-worn late 1800s lighthouse keeper, equipt with astonishingly realistic accent and the disgusting nature of a man who hasn’t left “the rock” he inhabits for decades. Dafoe goes full-on Shakespeare in the film, reciting a whirlwind of monologue in one-shot takes dripping in black shadow, spittle, and seafoam rot. One of 2019’s seven movies with Willem Dafoe, and certainly the best.
2000’s American Psycho is legendary, and only deepens with relevance as the years pass on. Christian Bale may have skyrocketed from American Psycho, but he’s only one of a few iconic performers who made the cult classic what it is today.
Dafoe plays the detective investigating the dirty doings of Patrick Bateman. Dafoe actively makes the protagonist & audience wonder how much the cops know, and how much of what we’ve seen Bateman do actually went down.
Dafoe popped up in American Psycho after doing the detective thing in 1999’s The Boondock Saints, making a double feature of movies any millennial boy will remember secretly screening once mom & dad went to bed in the early 2000s. The cult hits would continue to follow for Willem as the years went on.
Wild at Heart
1990’s Wild at Heart is perhaps David Lynch’s most accessible feature film, and arguably one of his best. The film puts Nic Cage & Laura Dern on screen as the irresistible Sailor & Lula who, without each other, the world would fall apart.
Wild at Heart is an Americana gush fest as we follow Sail & Lula on the open roads of the Western U.S., until our pal Dafoe mucks up their plans. Here, Dafoe shows audiences how deeply he can harness his creepiness as a perfect villain. Anyone who has seen Wild at Heart remembers Dafoe, and those tiny yellow teeth of his still haunt our dreams.
Finally, it’s important to note how well Willem Dafoe can do in small roles in movies. Director David Cronenberg is best known for movies like 1986’s The Fly and 1983’s Videodrome, but 1999’s Existenz is one of his most underrated gems.
Existenz is ahead of its time, telling the dystopian story of a virtual universe the masses can plug into, and it’s so popular you look weird if you don’t sign up (sound familiar?). Jude Law & Jennifer Jason Leigh star, but Willem Dafoe shows up when you least expect him.
Dafoe harnesses his villainous side when he shows up as a seedy gas station attendant who tries to install a faulty “bio-port” in Law. He soon reveals himself as the film’s first antagonist, and somehow manages to make us both laugh & shutter in his short but shining appearance on screen. Existenz is a testament to Willem Dafoe proving if you’re good enough, you can make any small role a huge one.
What’s your fave from the long list of movies with Willem Dafoe? Let us know in the comments below!